San Francisco’s meth problem: Cheap drugs lead to the grips of addiction

San Francisco is seeing a surge in methamphetamine use in the city. Law enforcement and medical professionals all agree meth use in San Francisco is increasing. 

Users say part of the reason is that it's cheap and easy to find. 

"It's just an abundance of speed,” said J.R. "People don't want to do heroin. They get stuck in a spot, they do some speed, do some speed. Now they ain't doing heroin no more, or they're using that with methamphetamine, which isn't good either."

Bill Bueuhlman works In Glide Memorial Church's Harm Reduction Program. He said many drug users mix opioids like heroin and fentanyl with a stimulant and over the years he's seen that stimulant shift from cocaine to meth. 

"Now what I see, nine times out of 10, almost, the crack pipe has been replaced by the bubble. The bubble I'm referring to the typical pipe that someone will vaporize methamphetamine out of," said Buehlman.

The increase in meth use has been laid out in San Francisco's 2019 methamphetamine task force report. The report says the percentage of meth arrests increased from roughly 19% in 2018 to roughly 21% this year. At the same time, cocaine and heroin arrests dropped.

Over the last 10 years the number of people dying from meth-related causes has increased sevenfold.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman sat on the task force and said it's clear the city has a meth problem and needs a long term plan. 

"We gotta do it because we have a complete crisis out on the streets in San Francisco right now and we also have people dying," said Mandelman.

Addiction medicine specialist Dr. Ako Jacintho from healthRIGHT 360 says he also has seen an increase in meth use. He says the drug's effect on the bodies and minds of users make it especially difficult to kick.

Add to that, there are currently no Food and Drug Administration approved drugs to help ween people off meth as there are with heroin and other opioids. 

"As an addiction-medicine specialist I have tried some medications," said Dr. Jacintho. "We try some medications that are off label to see if they will decrease the urge to use, the cravings. It doesn't work."

Users agree the grip the drug has on the body and mind make it difficult to quit. 

“Heroin, I was never really addicted. I did it, but I kicked it pretty easy," said J.R. "Crack I kicked. But, speed, I just can't not do it. If I don't do it I find myself in a black hole all the time."

The task force found that part of the problem lies in the fact the state has a 90-day treatment program model for substance abuse. But, it can take up to a year to effectively treat meth addiction.

The city said it needs to establish a longer runway to help people quit meth for good.